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Tips on staying safe this Christmas

December 2021

WAY Trustee Louise Dodds shares some tips on how to avoid falling victim to fraudsters this festive season.

The consumer body Which? found that in the year to April 2021, 413,553 instances of fraud were reported in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – an increase of 33% on the previous 12 months. And although scams are regularly going around in different forms all year round, the festive season always proves to be a time where these are more prevalent.

As fraudsters get more sophisticated and better at mimicking trusted organisations and financial institutions, it is often left to the individual to step back and rationalise the content of communications and if these come from legitimate sources.

As a member of WAY as well as a volunteer and Trustee, I understand the challenges that we face every day and even more so at Christmas. I was widowed in 2015, suddenly, when my partner, Andy, died in a freak cycling accident in France. He was 32 and I was 29. At that time we both worked in education but, as I started to navigate through this new life, I found it increasingly difficult to sustain my role and ultimately I left the only career I had known for 12 years for, what I believed would be an easy job. Where I could leave my work in the office and try to heal.

What I ended up finding was a new career, a new passion, in fraud for a high street bank. My time with that business was varied and I was involved in important roles and initiatives and I got to work within local communities helping to raise awareness of fraud and went into local schools for career days too.

My main priority and focus is to help you to 'Stop, Challenge and Protect' yourself from becoming a victim of fraud or being drawn in by a scam, especially at this time of year when these are everywhere.

Be aware of 'Widow Brain'

It has been recognised that 'Widow Brain' – a term used to describe the change in brain after experiencing loss, or 'Grief Brain' – can genuinely impact your brain function whilst you are adjusting to loss and the new life that we find ourselves in. This can present itself in different forms, from misplacing things, forgetting things or impairing our judgement when it comes to decision making and rational thought.

How many of us have received an email or a text where we are asked to click on a link? A call from a company asking for information? Whilst for the most part we may recognise these aren't genuine, there are occasions where, for whatever reason, we follow the instructions and click the link, download software, feel panicked into following the instructions provided. This can result in disclosed information to a fraudster and compromises to our personal details and accounts.

Some common terms that are used to describe the different methods used to gather
people's information are:

'Phishing'; a term used to describe the emails that you may receive, telling you to click on links or follow and enter your information.

'Smishing' is a term used to describe text messages you receive asking you to follow links.

'Vishing' is a word used to describe the phone calls we receive from people claiming to be
from your bank or other trusted organisation. 'Pharming' is a term used to describe the act
of redirecting people to a fake website.

Do you think you'd recognise a fraudulent email or text message? In the moment of panic on the phone, would you know what to do or feel calm enough to rationalise that this is not a genuine call? Would you know what to look out for on a website that might tell you that the website you're using isn't the genuine one or not secure?

Here are some tips:

Always check the email address that the email was sent from; is it a trusted one that
you've received mail from before when dealing with a company?

With unsolicited phone calls, don't be afraid to hang up. A genuine company will never pressure you to stay on the phone. Call the company back on a trusted number; the number on the back of your cards or a number from written correspondence that you may have received.

If you received the call on your landline, call a trusted number from a different device or if you can't do that, wait at least 2 mins before using the landline again, they can keep the line open for up to 2 minutes after you think you've hung up.

Check the website you're accessing has a padlock in the search bar, always type in the web address yourself, don't click on any pop up links.

Never give out bank details over the phone or by email when you receive an unsolicited phone call or email.

Check any invoices that come in and make sure they are genuine.

Recognise fraudsters' tricks

At Christmas time you may see increased security from your banks and other companies when completing purchases online and, whilst it can be frustrating, it's important to remember that they are just wanting to verify that your transaction is genuine to help protect you from being a victim of fraud.

It's also important to recognise the 'alternative' methods that fraudsters may use to get you to part with your money. In today's technological age we are seeing increasing numbers of people venture to online services and Apps to meet new people and form new relationships.

It's important to recognise behaviours or actions that are not genuine and intended to gain your trust over time for their financial gain. And whilst the vast majority of users are genuine, there is a small percentage who aren't.

Forming a bond with people exclusively online can be beneficial, as members of WAY know all too well. But beware of scammers when you are online or on social media. Unfortunately, however, there are some who prey on people they consider vulnerable.

Scammers might strike up a relationship with you to build your trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. They may make up a story and ask for money. They tell you that they work overseas or are in the military. Or that an unexpected event has happened and they are now stuck and need your help financially.

They may declare their love quickly, persuade you to keep the relationship a secret and try to isolate you from friends and family. They may ask you for money claiming that there is an emergency. They may also build up to things over time before asking anything of you.

If you suspect you have been the victim of a romance scam then stop contact immediately, talk to someone that you trust. Research the job they say they do: have there been other reported stories of people in this profession in the past?

Do a reverse image search on Google with their images to see if these are genuine images or ones that have been used or appeared online before. (On a desk top computer, go to images.google.com, click the camera icon, and either paste in the URL for an image you've seen online, upload an image from your hard drive, or drag an image from another window.)

If you think that you have been the victim of a scam, call or visit your bank and explain what has happened. They can help to secure your bank accounts.

Report it to Action Fraud, provide as much information as you can.

For some helpful tips on keeping safe online, you can visit:

https://takefive-stopfraud.org.uk/

https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/

Please remember to take care of yourself and stay safe this Christmas.